I fall over, down, across and occasionally off things a lot. Help me improve my balance?
April 11, 2012 12:07 AM   Subscribe

Is there anything out there to help me improve my balance, something that starts off easy, since even attempting to balance on one foot almost always results in me falling and/or getting rug burns?

I am a klutz. I fall down stairs so often that my SO and I call it my graceful swan move. I have learned through painful trial and error how to fall without hurting myself much, but I'd like to decrease the amount of times I do fall.
I also have had three ear surgeries which required me relearning how to balance myself on my feet with variable success.
posted by Sucht to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Move slowly and pay attention to as much sensory input as possible.

* Visual - look around you. Find points of reference. Pay attention to how they move relative to you.
* Audio - listen carefully as you move. Sounds are subtle, but as you get closer to a wall, sounds reverberate differently.
* Smell - I have no idea how you can incorporate smell into balance, but that doesn't mean you can't.
* Taste - ummm...
* Touch - feel your entire foot. If you've ever gone skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding or surfing that may help. Feel your toes. Feel your heels.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:14 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


May I suggest beginners' yoga? You can modify poses if they are too hard.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:28 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having a strong core helps me with my balance. Pilates and sit ups will strengthen your stomach muscles, and basic ballet/yoga classes and mindfulness exercises may help you center yourself so that you're aware of how to engage your stomach muscles to keep you upright and balanced. I like to imagine all my parts sort of settling into one another so that they're all coming towards my center of gravity to keep me where I need to be.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:53 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


A Bosu ball can really help you with balance issues.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 1:05 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


You could try Tai Chi. A good beginners class will do lots of exercises to help you "feel" where you are putting your weight and how you are transferring it.
posted by crocomancer at 1:31 AM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


My grandma's physical therapist gave her a series of simple exercises to do for 15 minutes every day to improve her balance - walking in a straight line (like down a hallway) while tilting your head one way and then the other way, looking at a specific point while standing with feet crossed for a couple minutes, standing still with your eyes closed for a couple minutes, etc. Even though they were easy, doing them carefully and repeatedly seemed to help her a lot. I can't remember the specifics of all her exercises, but these exercises (just from googling) seem similarly gentle.
posted by dreamyshade at 1:31 AM on April 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Stand opposite a mirror, preferrably a full-length one, and stare at yourself as you stand. You get visual feedback about where your body is, and it's much easier to balance. (Then close your eyes and you fall over immediately!)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:56 AM on April 11, 2012


Yoga, definitely. Also, as someone who has trouble with balance poses in yoga (basically standing on one foot stuff), building up ankle strength has been the key for me. Core, too, of course, but that came much easier. In addition to just doing a lot of, well, standing on one leg for as long as possible (in my case, in the various poses, and moving in and out of them slowly), I've just dug my rollerblades out of their ten-year hiding spot in the garage.
posted by instamatic at 2:44 AM on April 11, 2012


I'm actually trying the stand-on-one-foot thing as part of physical therapy now - my therapist gave me a tip that actually made a difference; bend your knee just a tiny bit when you stand on one foot. I felt like he'd told me a way to cheat or something, it helped so much.

Also, they pointed out something that was affecting not only my balance but my walk - I'm in therapy because of a broken-and-now-mended foot, but they pointed out that I still wasn't putting all my weight on that foot at the site of the break. And that's why I was falling over, because I wasn't putting my weight on my whole foot. Mentioning that because maybe it's something you can look into and see if that's what you're doing too?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:44 AM on April 11, 2012


For daily practice, try brushing your teeth and standing on one foot. You'll always have something to balance on just in case.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 3:52 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Start out by standing on one foot with one hand lightly touching a stable surface. Once that gets easy, try hovering the hand just away from the surface -- it's there if you need it. And once that gets easy, try it without the hand. Don't expect your body to already be able to do this -- you'll need to work up to it.

I also found a balance board very helpful -- they're cheap and available at most sporting goods stores. You can start by standing on it with both feet and hanging on to something, and transition to more challenging exercises, like balancing without holding on or balancing on one foot, over time.
posted by pie ninja at 4:03 AM on April 11, 2012


Seconding Tai Chi! I already had pretty good balance before starting (cycling helps, so you might try that too if you have a bike), and yet have been amazed at how much better my balance has become since starting Tai Chi. I can do all sorts of stances now without wobbling. A good professor will indeed emphasize getting the feel for your own body, especially balance and transferring weight; sometimes symbolically referred to as "growing roots".
posted by fraula at 5:01 AM on April 11, 2012


One thing I learned from tai chi that helped me right away and that you can do Any time you're standing, is to "pour" your weight from one foot to the other. You don't have to lift the "light" foot, just very slowly shift your weight from side to side. I do this while waiting for public transportation, sometimes while standing in museums - search for times in your life when you're standing, and then shift your weight, paying attention.

When you get good, start lifting the light foot. When you get Really good, get a balance board or a ball board, and when you get Even Better, have someone poke at you to challenge your balance while standing one-footed on a balance board (that's the sort of things PTs will do to make it harder - PTs sometimes seem cruel in their efforts to help).
posted by ldthomps at 5:14 AM on April 11, 2012


PT exercises worked for me. Look up IT band exercises.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:52 AM on April 11, 2012


I used to be extremely clumsy to the point of extreme ankle sprains just from missing steps, hitting the floor wrong, what have you. One day I missed a step and broke my leg in 20 places. I didn't even fall; I was still standing.

Then I started strength training by lifting weights and doing bodyweight exercises. A personal trainer showed me how, but I could have learned the basics myself.

That was 4 years ago. I'm proud to say I now have pretty awesome balance and haven't fallen even once since beginning strength training. I even do quad stretches standing on one leg all the damn time.

(And I favorited the Bosu ball link above because it was used as part of my balance-regaining PT following my leg break.)
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 6:12 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most of the exercises people are suggesting are harder than just standing on one foot, which you say you have trouble doing. So here's a lead-up to standing on one foot:
Stand at a counter. Touch the counter lightly with your fingertips. If you wobble, it'll catch you, but you're not leaning on it. (You could do this all on its own, or while you're brushing your teeth, or while you're watching the coffee brew, or waiting for pasta water to boil, or anything like that. Could also be every time you pause to look at something at the grocery store, since you've got the cart right there.)
Round 1: Put all your weight on one foot, but leave the other one the ground. Stand 30-60 seconds. Swap to the other foot. Try this in shoes, too, but barefoot will be the most helpful.
Round 2: Pick up the heel of the off foot, but leave the toes touching. Start 10-15 seconds, work up to 60.
Round 3: Lift the foot all the way off the ground. You can just bend your kneew and hold the foot an inch from the floor, you can place the flat of the foot against your ankle (modified yoga tree pose), you can straighten the knee and hold hte foot out in front or to the side, whatever's comfortable.
Round 4: This is now "advanced", so there isn't really a round 4 unless you really want there to be. You could look at yoga poses, which involve things to do with the spare foot. Tree, eagle, dancer, warrior 3, etc. If you feel really stable and want to regain the feeling of practicing and improving, close your eyes; instead of using visual cues to keep yourself from swaying, you'll have to refer to your inner ear and your muscles. It's much harder, but if you can train yourself for that, you'll be quite solid.

How are your feet and ankles feeling? Burning muscles in the bottom of the foot? Wobbly feeling in the ankles? One major contributor to balance is strength - practicing this stuff is not just about sensing where your body is, but also having stabilizing muscles in your feet and ankles that are strong enough to perform a correction when you sense that you're a little off-center. If you find that strengthening exercises would help:
Put a towel on the floor, and a chair facing the short end of the towel. Sit down and put your foot on the towel. Scrunch your toes to wad up the towel under your foot. Release and grab again - you're basically tugging hte towel bit by bit until you've tugged the whole thing into a pile at the foot of the chair. Now repeat on the other foot.
For your ankles, you can obviously train you calf muscles by sifting up on tiptoe and back down, but for stability, you rely on the sides of your ankle quite a bit. Sit down, hold your feet in the air in front of you, and move your toes in U shapes: flex high to the left, point in front, high to the right. Try to get as much left/right motion between those flexed positions as possible (i.e. not much thigh rotation). Put your hand on the outside front of your calf and wiggle your foot around until you locate the muscle that tenses up when you do that sideways flex - that's the one you're trying to strengthen.
posted by aimedwander at 6:55 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


One thing you can do anywhere, anytime, to improve your kinaesthetic sense (the sense that tells you where your body is in space and in what position):

Close your eyes. You can combine this with any of the things above. It forces you to get the information from the inside as opposed to from visual reference.
posted by sixswitch at 7:34 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm beginning to feel a sense of duty in posting this link to balance questions.

There are suggestions in the comments as well as the body of the article.

If you can't sustain standing on one foot for even a minute, start smaller and build up. Consistency/repetition is key, not initial duration. Keep at it, do the exercises in an area where falling doesn't hurt (at the gym on the padded area? in your bedroom near your bed?) and do them several times a day for weeks.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:04 AM on April 11, 2012


I've always been a klutz, and Pilates really helped my balance. A lot of Pilates might challenging for someone with inner-ear related balance issues, but here's a super easy exercise. Stand near a wall you can grab, for extra security. Or maybe you could install a balance barre in your house?

Stand with feet facing forward, shoulder width apart. Knees very slightly bent.
Picture 4 points of balance in each foot--two in the heel, two in the ball of the foot. 8 points total.
Practice slowly shifting your weight among those 8 points. You don't have to actually lift your feet, just shift the weight around.
Breathe calmly.
Do this for at least five minutes, or for as long as you want. You can have your eyes open or closed.

I'd also recommend Pilates mat exercises, the kind where you lay on your back or stomach, to improve core strength. Or yoga or plain old situps.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 10:43 AM on April 12, 2012


Balance and proprioception go hand in hand so many of the techniques that help improve one will help with the other, and help with overall clumsiness.

For a low budget and yet effective way to improve proprioception and balance, I suggest buying a circular wobble/balance board. (Some images here; not the log-roller ones).

They're portable, cheap, effective, you can use them sitting or standing (and holding onto a door frame or a chair). This site has a nice little video of the range of exercises--from easy to advanced--that you can try.

I use the wobble board as part of my daily workout for skating; it's really helped my balance immensely.

Good luck!
posted by skye.dancer at 12:52 PM on April 12, 2012


*ears perk up at the mention of ankle-and-foot-strengthening exercises*

If you want a couple more: as well as the "make u-shapes with your feet," try imagining you've wedged a pencil in your toes, and "write" each letter of the alphabet. Do one set upper-case, then one set lower-case.

As well as the "scrunch a towel up with your toes," try getting a bunch of marbles, cotton balls, or something similar in size and shape; dump them out on the floor, put a dish down on the floor next to them, and then pick each one of the whatevers up with the toes on one foot and put it in the dish. Then dump them out on the ground again, and repeat with the other foot.


These are actual things I've been doing all this month. And in theory I should be doing more often.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:13 PM on April 12, 2012


Wii Fit focuses on balance a ton, and my mom is really enjoying using hers (and has been for a few years now). It isn't a great workout, in my opinion, but she's in her sixties so it fits the bill.
posted by lovingkindness at 8:48 AM on April 13, 2012


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